Football FanCast columnist Richard Buxton thinks that Sunderland could be on the verge of something.
Sunderland have shocked the Premiership already this season with an impressive start to the campaign as well as a new-look line-up.
It’s a far cry from the Black Cats side that struggled against relegation under Roy Keane and Ricky Sbragia after him, narrowly beating the drop on the final day of the season at the expense of local rivals Newcastle United.
This flirtation with a return to The Championship for the first time in four years shocked chairman Niall Quinn into bringing in Wigan boss Steve Bruce as manager and allowing him free rein in the transfer market. Out went Dwight Yorke and a lot of faces from the Keane dynasty and in came a host of names from the Premiership and beyond.
Recruiting Lee Cattermole from his old stomping ground and Michael Turner from Hull were Bruce’s biggest coups with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool sniffing round the youngsters but luring Marseille’s Lorik Cana to Wearside was no mean feat with the Albanian wanted by virtually half the continent as was Tottenham’s Darren Bent.
The style Bruce has Sunderland playing in is also a refreshing change. Despite having the help of a beach ball to score they dominated the game against Liverpool, keeping Rafael Benitez’s side at bay with tight attacking play which allowed them to break past the visitors’ back four on more than one occasion. Their hard-fought 2-2 draw with Manchester United also deserves recognition after a game which they dominated and were on the verge of recording an historic win before Anton Ferdinand diverted the ball into his own net in the final minutes.
Sunderland haven’t hit full steam as of yet but they are threatening to do so with a London double header as they face West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur in addition to welcoming Arsenal to the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats currently sit in 8th place in the Barclays Premier League, just eight points off leaders Chelsea who condemned them to a 3-1 defeat in August but could be vying for fifth spot come the end of this season. Manchester City, for all the money that has been plunged into the club, are out of sorts and Aston Villa haven’t kickstarted their campaign despite some impressive wins so perhaps it’s time to show Bruce’s troops a little respect.
If they do manage to reach the heady heights of the top five and maintain that stronghold, they will do something that Ipswich Town and Hull City have both failed to do. The Tractor Boys enjoyed an impressive start to life in the Premiership in 2000-01, securing a UEFA Cup place but found themselves back in The Championship two season later after plummeting to the top flight basement. Hull looked set to secure a top ten spot after coming away from Anfield with a point and the Emirates with all three but they struggled in the second half of the season.
Newcastle’s relegation has seen the power shift across the North East and if current form is anything to go by, it will be residing with their biggest rivals for some time.